Frithjof Schuon, Perennialist Spokesman

Frithjof Schuon is best known as the foremost spokesman of the “perennialist” perspective and a sage and philosopher in the metaphysical current of Shankara and Plato. Over the past 50 years, he has written more than 20 books on metaphysical, spiritual and ethnic themes as well as having been a regular contributor to journals on comparative religion in both Europe and America.

Schuon’s writings have been consistently featured and reviewed in a wide range of scholarly and philosophical publications around the world, respected by both scholars and spiritual authorities. Of his first book, The Transcendent Unity of Religions (London, Faber & Faber) T.S. Eliot wrote: “I have met with no more impressive work in the comparative study of Oriental and Occidental religion.”

Frithjof Schuon was born in Basle, Switzerland, on June 18, 1907. His father was a native of southern Germany, while his mother came from an Alsatian family. Schuon’s father was a concert violinist, and the household was one in which not only music but literary and spiritual culture were present. Schuon lived in Basle and attended school there until the untimely death of his father, after which his mother returned with her two young sons to her family in Mulhouse, France, where Schuon was obliged to become a French citizen.

Having received his earliest training in German, he received his later education in French and thus mastered both languages early in life.
While still living in Mulhouse, he discovered the works of the French philosopher and orientalist Rene Guenon, which served to confirm his intellectual intuitions and which provided support for the metaphysical principles he had begun to discover.

Schuon journeyed to Paris after serving for a year and a half in the French army. In Paris, he worked as a textile designer and at the same time began to study Arabic in the school of the mosque. Living in Paris also brought the opportunity to be exposed to a much greater degree than before to various forms of traditional art, especially those of Asia, with which he had had a deep affinity since his youth. This period of a growing intellectual and artistic familiarity with the traditional worlds was followed by Schuon’s first visit to Algeria in 1932.

It was then that he met the celebrated Shaykh Ahmad al-Alawi. On a second trip to North Africa, in 1935, he visited Algeria and Morocco; and during 1938 and 1939, he traveled to Egypt, where he met Guenon, with whom he had been in correspondence for 20 years. In 1939, shortly after his arrival in India, the Second World War broke out, forcing him to return to Europe. After having served in the French army, and after having been made prisoner by the Germans, he sought asylum in Switzerland, which gave him nationality and was to be his home for forty years.

Schuon was born in 1907 in Basle, Switzerland, of German parents. As a youth, he went to Paris, where he studied for a few years before undertaking a number of trips to North Africa, the Near East and India in order to contact spiritual authorities and witness traditional cultures. Following World War II, he accepted an invitation to travel to the American West, where he lived for several months among the Plains Indians, in whom he has always had a deep interest. Having received his education in France, Schuon has written all his major works in French, which began to appear in English translation in 1953.

In 1980, Schuon and his wife emigrated to the United States, where he continued to write until his death in 1998.